Saturday, November 1, 2014 | Latest E-book | Subscribe to Newsletter

Naming Bhandara rape victims: Mr Shinde goofs up... again

A government claiming to be sensitive to issues of crimes against women could not have goofed up worse. Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde outdid himself when he made a statement in the Rajya Sabha today in which he named the three minor victims who were raped, killed and thrown into a well in Bhandara.

During the debate none of the speakers, all apparently riled up at the manner women suffer, noticed the faux pas and it was left to the Leader of Opposition, Arun Jaitley to step in.

Generously, Jaitley contended that this could have been an oversight and explained that victims of sexual crimes, especially minors, should never be named. The hiding of their identities is a requirement in law and has enormous social implication.

A statement, as it was mercifully in this case, is not actually read by the minister if it is on an issue which is admitted for discussion by the presiding officer. The prepared statement in placed on the table of the house and is taken as read. The members get a copy each in advance as they enter the debating arena.

Image from Twitter, courtesy Shiv Aroor

Image from Twitter, courtesy Shiv Aroor

This crime being discussed happened in Murwadi, a village in Bhandara’s Lakhani taluka. The three sisters were found in a well when informed of it by a local last month. They were aged, respectively, 6, 9, and 11.

Horror of horrors, even after Jaitley spoke, Shinde was at a loss. He just did not get it and just looked at the Opposition leader. He repeated his explanation and this time, in Hindi. As a result of this goof up, the House and its members were becoming complicit in refraction of law.

Even then, it did apparently did not register.

PJ Kurien, Deputy Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha, thereafter took it upon himself to sort things out. The names would be expunged, he said, and also informed the media that were the victims to be named then it would be considered a breach of privilege.

It is not clear if the written statement in such cases which, once tabled, becomes the property of the House and thus also a public document, was actually to be taken back. Each MP would have been given a copy.

Had they wanted, the MPs could have raised hell at this indiscretion by the Home Minister. However, despite the references to the rape case in Delhi which brought the issue of sexual crimes against women to the forefront in the country, the attendance was thin.

When the Rajya Sabha TV panned the camera once a while for its real-time telecast, the huge empty spaces could be seen, which – not on the issue of the minister’s indiscretion but the gravamen of the issue of rapes coupled with murder – did not exactly underscore the people’s representatives seriousness.

It was as if, oh heck, I am not speaking so I might as well go for my lunch. The few MPs who did speak did so with some agitation to the extent that even Maharashtra MPs, cutting across party lines, faulted the state for poor response to crimes. They spoke of how a woman was disrobed in Ahmednagar after a crime against her, and how in another place, a gangrape took place.

One MP mentioned a rape in Sangli, describing it as the “district of the state’s Home Minister” but here Shinde was quick to gesticulate, protesting that not Sangli but Solapur was his home district. Here, the reflexes worked snappily. He misunderstood that the reference was to him.

As if all this were not enough, Smriti Irani, another MP from Maharashtra dealt a strong blow. Despite several pleas from her, Maharashtra Chief Minister had not yet appointed a chairperson to the Maharashtra Women’s Rights Commission; the post had been vacant for nearly two years she said. And women were under assault in Maharashtra.

She pleaded with Mr Shinde to intervene with Maharashtra.

During his response to the discussion, he entered a caveat: law and order was a state subject but he would use his good offices.

Now we wait to see how quick his response is to this plea from Irani, for though it was not mentioned, even the Maharashtra Human Rights Commission has no members and its work is being held up.

Those seeking help were returning without being heard.